Dáil Éireann - Volume 632 - 01 March, 2007

Written Answers. - Eating Disorders.

Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons classified as obese here under the age of 12, between 12 and 21 and over 21; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8115/07]

  Mr. S. Power: The question relates to the management and delivery of health and personal social services, which are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the estimated cost to the economy of obesity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [8116/07]

  Mr. S. Power: The Report of the National Taskforce on Obesity — Obesity the Policy Challenges — was published in 2005 and contained 93 recommendations aimed at tackling overweight and obesity. These recommendations relate to actions across six broad sectors: high-[1683] level government; education; social and community; health; food, commodities, production and supply; and the physical environment.

The Taskforce recognises that a multi-sectoral approach is necessary, involving other state agencies and government departments and real engagement of the public and private sectors to implement all of the report’s recommendations. My Department is currently finalising proposals for the development of a mechanism which will facilitate inter-sectoral working on the prevention of chronic diseases including obesity.

The Health Service Executive has established a Working Group to implement the health sector recommendations of the Task Force on Obesity for which the HSE has the lead responsibility and for which €3 million has been allocated. In 2006 eight additional posts focused on obesity were secured and a number of new initiatives commenced and are continuing.

In relation to the surveillance and monitoring of obesity, funding has been provided by the HSE to UCD, to record height and weight in children at school entry point as part of the Lifeways cohort. The development of a national database to monitor prevalence trends of growth, overweight and obesity was also funded. The HSE is working with the Irish Universities Nutritional Alliance, to research food and nutrition in children and its determinants. Funding was also allocated to the Irish Heart Foundation to progress the Action for Life physical activity programme and to undertake a project on marketing of foods to children.

National Guidelines for community based practitioners on prevention and management of childhood overweight and obesity were published and launched in December. Training for primary and community based practitioners on patient centred skills in addressing overweight and obesity was also funded. New growth charts for children were developed.

The Health Service Executive is working with the Community Games Association to integrate Health Promotion as a strategic priority in their strategic plan. This plan addresses Nutrition and physical Activity as well as other key health promotion topics. The partnership with the Education Sector is progressing. The HSE has also developed a strategic alliance with the Irish Sports Council, and have part-funded the Local Sports Partnerships to promote Physical Activity.

In order to determine precise costs of obesity to the health sector and to the economy as a whole, a great deal of primary research would need to be undertaken. However, the TaskForce report estimated the obesity-related treatment cost to the healthcare system in 2002 was €70m. The TaskForce point out that there is a danger that focusing on the public finance costs or the output lost obscures the fundamental point that the real loss is the premature death. With this in [1684] mind, I am pleased that my Department and the HSE are moving forward with initiatives to prevent obesity and, where necessary, to treat the range of associated illnesses.